Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why You Should Go See Dawn Treader

1.) It's far, far, far, far, far and away the best of the Narnia adaptations. Now firmly in the hands of Brit Michael Apted, it's breathtakingly beautiful and...

2.) ...well translated to film. I was worried when I read that they'd made plot changes, and part of me wonders if that bit of press didn't hurt the release. But you know what? The changes were subtle and they worked.

3.) More than that, they set things up nicely for The Silver Chair.

4.) Will Poulter makes the best Eustace Scrubb EVER. Which I knew he would, because he was fantastically wonderful as Lee Carter in Son of Rambow. That was a bit of casting I was excited about when it released, and it was just as good as I expected.

5.) Dawn Treader had a lousy opening weekend. Lousy to the point that it's the end of the franchise if people don't head out to the theater and bring the numbers up.

5.) It would be really sad if the franchise ended here, because The Silver Chair is probably the most filmable of all of the books, with the exception of The Horse and His Boy, which is my absolute favorite. I really, reeeeeaaally want to see The Horse and His Boy. And I want to see Michael Apted do Silver Chair (which he will if the franchise continues).

6.) So bundle up your children, sweet-talk your husband (not that mine needed any), coerce a friend, do what you have to do, just go see the movie. You'll like it. It's lovely, and it shouldn't be the last.

Note: See it in 2D. We saw it in 3D, and it really wasn't worth it. The colors will be brighter, the image sharper in 2D.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Once Upon a Time, or, How to Begin a Novel

When I start a book, I always think it's going to be easier than it really is.

Beginning a story is tricky. Some people start their book before they start their story. They begin with prologues and opening scenes and lay out their groundwork very carefully, like chefs who set out their ingredients ahead of time.

The thing is that, realistically, as writers we don't really have that luxury. Those opening scenes are only good for you, as information about who your characters are. Think about this - if your book doesn't really get going until the fifth chapter, a.) you're banking on a fairly patient reader, and (more importantly) b.) you haven't showcased the best part of your book when it's being looked at by the Powers that Be. Whether it's agents, editors, or a Publishing Committee, remember that even if your readers are willing to settle slowly into a story, it's not likely that anyone in publishing will.

Your first three chapters become more than the beginning of the book - they're your resumé, your proof that you know how to take your readers out for a spin and show them the sights.
Think about your first three chapters as being the pilot episode for a TV series (The pilot for Gilmore Girls is a great example, fyi). You need to give an idea of where you're going and who your principle characters are within those first three chapters. Specifically, introduce the main character, explain her world, set up the main conflict, and introduce the love-interest in the three-chapter time frame.

Bada-bing, bada- boom. You're now ready to write the rest of your novel.

For example: in Nicole Mones The Last Chinese Chef, the main character, Maggie, is an food-writing American widow who goes to China to settle a claim against her late husband's estate. While she's there, she discovers a.) her husband had secrets and b.) the mysterious world of Chinese haute cuisine while writing about chef Sam Liang.

Mones works fast - in the first chapter, she manages to get her protagonist out of her houseboat, onto a plane, in China, and introduced to Sam. All in 17 pages.

The second chapter better establishes Sam as a character and introduces some of the principle supporting cast, Sam's Chinese uncles.

The third chapter showcases Sam's cooking and Maggie's writing. We learn the history of Sam's father, grandfather, and Chinese uncles, as well as several of the tenants of traditional Chinese cuisine.

Likewise, in Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, Allen has entirely set up the main characters, the love-interest, and the world of magical realism.

In contrast, in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson didn't introduce Mikael Blomkvist to Lisbeth Salander for 18 chapters. EIGHTEEN CHAPTERS. Lisbeth doesn't even make an appearance for the first 38 pages, which would be forgivable (it's still in the second chapter) if she weren't the driving force of the book. Mikael, as a character, is fairly bland. Lisbeth is one of the most interesting characters to be written in the last ten years, at least. When you've got someone that good, putting her in the background is a bad idea.

Yes, I know Girl has been an international success. I know, I know. Just because a book is successful doesn't mean it couldn't have been better written.

I mean, Dan Brown, folks.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Travels, Part II

So we arrived in Memphis, and we pulled up at the place where we were to stay for the next three months.

The lobby smelled of stale cigarette smoke. I was worried but didn't say anything. We accepted our keys and walked down the musty hallway to our assigned room.

It didn't smell of stale cigarettes, but it did smell like slightly rancid fried potatoes. The furniture was dated and chipped. The carpet was stained. There were wires where the smoke detector used to be.

I plugged in one of my Febreeze scented-plug-ins, but had difficulty because all of the outlets were either upside-down or sideways. (Note: it wasn't until yesterday that I discovered that the Febreeze pluggy-thingy is actually rotatable. So keep that under your hat). Danny pulled out one of our power-strips and tied it around the chair in a slip-knot we could try to replace our room's greasy fryer scent. the time we found hairs of a concerning nature in various places in the was time to decamp.

Calls were made. Opinions asked. It was a tricky situation to be in, considering that Memphis, Tennessee is not anything like anywhere in Oregon, or anything like anywhere bordering Oregon. I don't wish to insult any from the south, but here's the thing - the Pacific Northwest and the Mid South are not like apples and oranges. They're like apples and dental floss.

Eventually, one of Danny's co-workers from Portland who was familiar(ish) with the area advised Danny to go to one of the Marriotts in Southaven, Mississippi, about 15 minutes away.

We did. We packed up, checked out, and fled.

The room at the Marriott was magical. By magical, I mean clean.

We spent the weekend looking at other extended-stay hotels. We made preliminary efforts to move to one on Monday that appeared to be safe and clean (better smell, no garbage or syringes to be seen), but were dissuaded from that when we learned that the company had sent employees to that one before, who had reported that there were prostitutes roaming the hallways. In what capacity, we didn't know, but just the same we elected to move to another hotel farther east, bordering Germantown.

It's been better. The hallways are still stale and the toilet burps sometimes when others flush, which apparently means something's wrong with the plumbing somewhere in a very bad way...but nothing bad's happened yet, so here's hoping. Visited Target and TJ Maxx and picked up things to make it a bit homier.

So far? Memphis is very different from Oregon. Everyone sounds like Paula Dean. I've yet to be able to get a spring greens salad at a restaurant (though the Macaroni Grill had a romaine salad with a bit of frisee on top), but we've been able to find things we were expecting to do without, such as Oregon Chai tea concentrate and Odwalla juices. We had wonderful Thai Iced Teas at dinner the other night (though the Pad Thai was not the best. Danny's dish was good, though). There's a Whole Foods close by with lots of options - I'm hoping (hoping!!) that I might be able to find Tillamook cheese...

Recycling? Not so much.

Oh, and another thing? In Oregon, if the speed limit is 55 - especially if it's in-town driving - at most people are traveling at 62 or so. Memphis? It averages around 70 to 75, with some people in the end lanes traveling around 85-90.

On our drive from the Marriott to our extended stay hotel, my hands were so tight on the steering wheel I had wrist pain afterwards.

Our plans? Find good barbeque. Our first venture out sent us to a well-recommended and much-loved restaurant that no longer existed, and in its place was okay barbeque and depressing sides (green beans from a can. An old can). But everyone's telling Danny to go to Central Barbeque, so that's our destination after we see Dawn Treader. Looking forward to a night out together!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Travels, Part I

I'm frankly a little appalled at how infrequently I've blogged in the last year. All I can say is that it's been quite a year.

Since the last blog, we've traveled from Portland to Eugene for Thanksgiving; we had a wonderful holiday with family. That night, however, while we were staying at my grandmother's, Danny heard her call for me. Thinking I'd left a dish in the wrong place (it's happened before), I got up to see what she needed.

Well, she'd fallen and (we later discovered) broken her hip. We didn't know that at the time. She wanted us to help her to bed so she could sleep it off. At one point she asked Danny if he could just grab her foot and drag her down the kitchen floor (he declined). Instead, he called an ambulance and she was whisked away for painkillers, x-rays, and ultimately surgery to repair the hip.

I'm happy to report that she's doing quite well. She's in a rehab facility (though looking forward to being out) and has her spunk back (not that it was ever far away).

The Monday after Thanksgiving, we packed up (again) and began our journey to Memphis. We drove to Fresno, CA, first, where we got to see some of Danny's cousins and their kids. From Fresno we continued to Bakersfield and hung a left to Arizona.

1.) Parts of the desert are incredibly beautiful. I find this comforting since we will eventually be moving to the desert.

2.) The freeway, eastbound, in Arizona is weird. I'm still astounded that we didn't see any hippies out there with their tambourines, but they may have been on their smoke breaks. There were plenty of places to stop and see fake dinosaurs, though, if we were so inclined.

3. The streets roll up early in Williams, AZ, where we spent our second night. Very glad for Safeway, bearer of food.

4. Flagstaff, AZ could be Bend if you added a couple mountains. Same type of people - they all look like they were just out surfing/snowboarding. Deeply grateful to Starbucks, from whom we searching out breakfast every morning.

5. New Mexico is a dull place to drive through. Just sayin'.

6. Amarillo, TX is a good place to order in pizza if you've been driving all day and the thought of going back into the car and walking around in public makes you want to cry.

7. Van Buren, AK has my favorite Holiday Inn Express.

And then...

...we got to Memphis.